As London gradually unlocks, its hospitality sector is slowly waking up.
But there’s a familiar theme evident throughout this enormous industry: thousands of Europeans who used to work here have moved on.
“Quite a lot of people left mainly because of Brexit, and didn’t feel like they were welcome anymore. Not just this city, but also the country – and obviously COVID didn’t help that,” says Davide Orazi, head barista at coffee bar WatchHouse.
Asma Khan runs an Indian restaurant in London’s Covent Garden and says she’s struggling to fill the gaps.
“To some extent we deserve this, because when things were going really well, we didn’t look after our staff.”
For Asma, the UK needs to improve working standards to entice people back.
“To pretend that they don’t exist, that they’re not the core of hospitality is so wrong. I think it’s really important that we actually start talking about the rights of people who work in hospitality, maybe we need to create a union.”
Despite a wave of job losses and more than 35,000 fewer employees across the UK’s hospitality sector, restaurants and cafes are still struggling to find the staff.
At the Sussex Bar and Restaurant in Soho, the vast majority of staff are from the European mainland.
Mikael is from the Basque country and Steve is from Saint Etienne, in France.
So what’s the secret?
Owner Richard Gladwin says the key is treating staff fairly and guaranteeing jobs.
“One of the first things that I’ve done is rather than paying hourly with zero-hours contracts – let’s have managers, but there’s a manager for the service there’s a manager for the wine. And it suddenly, being a manager, takes it out from being a casual job to – this is my career.”
The latest Office for National Statistics figures show that, at the end of 2020, Britain had almost a million fewer non-UK-born residents than the previous year.